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COIL has developed an approach to fostering cross-cultural student competence through development of multicultural learning environments that link university or college classes in different countries. In the COIL model, students from different cultures enroll in shared courses with faculty members from each country co-teaching and managing coursework. The COIL model does not merely promote courses where students from different nations co-habit an online classroom. Rather, we advocate creation of co-equal learning environments where instructors work together to generate a shared syllabus based on solid academic coursework emphasizing experiential and collaborative student learning. The classes may be fully online, or offered in blended formats with traditional face-to-face sessions taking place at both schools, while collaborative student work takes place online.
Although instructors work closely with all students, in most cases students are enrolled, charged tuition, and awarded grades only at their home institution. This revenue-neutral model creates shared classrooms enhanced through collaborative coursework that provide an opportunity to reinvigorate curricula at campuses through integration of globally networked learning. Such courses convey deeper understanding of ideas and texts, while also providing students a venue in which to develop their cross-cultural competence, as well as their teamwork and problem solving skills. These initiatives also provide a valuable internationally-focused professional development opportunity for faculty and staff.
Some possible course models for interested faculty and institutions are outlined below. More detail about developing COIL courses can be found in version 1.3 of our Faculty Guide for COIL Course Development. The guide begins with background information about globally networked learning, followed by discussions on how to locate a faculty partner, how to gather institutional support and how to negotiate course content with your partner. Please email firstname.lastname@example.org to receive a free copy of the guide.
Modes of interaction in COIL courses:
Online – In this model, two or more groups of students residing in different countries enroll in the course, two or more faculty members teach and manage the course work, and all teaching and interaction takes place online. Here the curriculum for all students may be identical or specific to the individual courses.
Dual Hybrid – In this model, two or more groups of students residing in different countries enroll in the course with dedicated faculty members co-teaching and managing the coursework at each participating institution. Each group of students regularly meets face-to-face with their instructor, while the larger group works together online on specific assignments and shared productions. Here the curriculum for the different student groups need not be identical, but can instead be complementary, with only the shared units and assignments being similar or identical. In this model it is more likely that students will be separately graded and receive credit from their home university.
Carrot – This is really not a separate model, but rather a way to bring stronger closure to the collaborative work process and to add a significant incentive for student participation. With this approach, one or more students from each participating institution are offered the opportunity to travel to their partners’ country, to present their final project and to meet their peers abroad. This end of semester trip may be funded through the class budget or can be contingent on student underwriting of the travel expenses. If funded through the class budget it would likely be in the form of an award for strong work produced during the course. The visit would typically be for a period of 5-10 days and housing would be provided by host families or by the host institution in a dormitory setting.
Educational Function of COIL Courses:
One semester academic courses - Almost any academic course can be enriched by the active participation of students from another culture, although for each course the most fruitful avenues of interaction must be identified, developed and then integrated into the course syllabus. In some cases this development process will open up so many new possibilities that the creation of an entirely new course may be a likely outcome. In any case, it will first be necessary to determine whether the English language skills of all participating students are similar enough that the course can be taught on a level language playing field. In most cases English will be the first language for students from the U.S., but it will be the second or third language for the student participants from abroad. A potential language skill discrepancy, if it is not too severe, may actually be a motivating factor for the non-U.S. students, as the online writing that is central to such courses will give them a chance to improve their English skills.
It is also be possible to turn the linguistic tables around and base the class on another language that is the first language of the students participating from abroad. So, for example, a class on Spanish culture might be partially or even fully taught in Spanish, in a setting where U.S. students work with a group of Spanish students. The methodologies of online discourse and interaction will vary somewhat across the disciplines. However, one of the primary tools when language skills amongst the participating students are sufficiently congruent, will usually be mandatory contributions to threaded discussions. Here faculty members post questions drawn from shared readings, from prior group discussions, or from common project work. All students are expected to post public responses to these questions and to comment on the answers of others, bringing a cross-cultural perspective to the discussion. Many other foci of interaction can also be developed, including the use of digital imagery and multimedia.
One semester art courses – The parameters for an online or hybrid art course that spans different cultures are not radically different than those for more traditional academic courses, but there are some approaches that may lend themselves especially well to the arts. Many artistic practices are not primarily language based. This opens up the possibility of working with groups of students who do not have strong English language skills or who do not wish to base their learning so centrally on written English. One of the most important aspects of developing a successful online classroom is to create opportunities for student interactivity – and the exchange of artistic media can be a very dynamic and motivational element in this regard. For example, students from one culture can be asked to respond with their own artwork to the photos, drawings, graphic designs, music or videos that are posted by participating students from another culture, and this exchange can be extended over many weeks or months to form a cross-cultural audio-visual weaving.
Two semester courses – In some cases the academic calendars of participating institutions may be so different that the period when both schools are in session in one semester may be too short to accomplish the course goals. In this case it may make more sense to spread the collaborative aspect of the coursework over two semesters. For example, most SUNY schools begin their fall semesters around September 1 or earlier, while most European universities start on October 1. In this situation there are only ten weeks when both schools are simultaneously in session and the collaborative experience must either be compressed into this period, or a two-semester long commitment can be considered.
Bridge Courses – Many students contemplate travel abroad in conjunction with exchange programs, summer abroad programs, dual diploma programs and other forms of bi-lateral education. However, there is often very little structured preparation for the study abroad experience. This can lead to misperceptions about what lies ahead and to culture shock after the student arrives in an unfamiliar environment. Some transitional stress during a period of re-orientation to a different culture is inevitable and possibly even beneficial, but we propose to create online bridge courses that will help prepare the way for a successful study abroad experience. These courses can take the form of short preparatory interactive workshops or full semester academic courses. It also may be useful to develop bridge courses designed to extend working relationships that develop during an experience abroad. Such a course would take place in the semester after a cohort of students returned to their home campus.